Nickelsberg v. Workers' Comp. Appeals Bd.

Decision Date30 August 1991
Docket NumberNo. S013121,S013121
Citation285 Cal.Rptr. 86,814 P.2d 1328,54 Cal.3d 288
CourtCalifornia Supreme Court
Parties, 814 P.2d 1328 Dieter NICKELSBERG, Petitioner, v. WORKERS' COMPENSATION APPEALS BOARD and Los Angeles Unified School District, Respondents.

Rucka, O'Boyle, Lombardo & McKenna and N. Michael Rucka, as amici curiae on behalf of petitioner.

Kegel, Tobin, Hamrick & Truce, Robert W. Gilpin and Michael A. Ingler, Los Angeles, for respondents.

Haworth, Bradshaw & Chaney and C. Gordon Taylor, as amici curiae on behalf of respondents.

PANELLI, Justice.

We granted review to determine whether a workers' compensation judge had jurisdiction to award petitioner Dieter Nickelsberg (Nickelsberg) temporary total disability indemnity more than five years after the date of his original injury. We conclude, as did the Workers' Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB) and the Court of Appeal, that the workers' compensation judge lacked jurisdiction to award temporary total disability indemnity to Nickelsberg.

FACTS

Nickelsberg, a truck driver for the Los Angeles Unified School District, suffered industrial injuries to his back and legs in 1976 and again in 1979. Nickelsberg stipulated with the school district and with the State Compensation Insurance Fund that his injuries had resulted in temporary disability from January 6, 1979, through June 8, 1981, and in permanent disability of 66 3/4 percent. The parties also stipulated that Nickelsberg might need further medical treatment to cure or to relieve the injuries' effects. Pursuant to the stipulation, a workers' compensation judge awarded Nickelsberg indemnity for temporary and permanent disability and further medical treatment on February 2, 1983.

Nickelsberg underwent back surgery in July 1987. Pursuant to the original award, the school district paid for Nickelsberg's medical treatment. He was again temporarily, totally disabled from March 7, 1987, to November 25, 1987.

On February 8, 1988, more than nine years from the date of his 1979 injury, Nickelsberg filed a petition to reopen his original award. He claimed that he had suffered a "new and further disability" as defined in section 5410. He also claimed that, because the new period of disability was caused by medical treatment provided pursuant to his existing award, he was entitled to recover further temporary total disability indemnity under Labor Code section 4656 1, as amended in 1978 (see § 4656, as amended by Stats.1978, ch. 937, § 1, p. 2913). In opposition to Nickelsberg's claim, the school district contended that an additional award would be barred by the time and jurisdictional limitations of sections 5804 and 5410.

Accepting Nickelsberg's argument, the workers' compensation judge awarded further temporary total disability indemnity on November 10, 1988, and the school district sought reconsideration by the WCAB. The WCAB determined that the school district's petition was untimely. However, because the WCAB determined that the workers' compensation judge erred in granting Nickelsberg further temporary total disability, it decided to grant reconsideration on its own motion. (§ 5900, subd. (b).)

The WCAB rescinded the award. The WCAB determined that "an award of further medical treatment does not implicitly carry with it a commensurate award of temporary total disability." On that basis, the WCAB concluded that Nickelsberg's petition to reopen was barred by section 5804 and that the workers' compensation judge therefore lacked jurisdiction to award further temporary total disability indemnity. The Court of Appeal affirmed.

DISCUSSION 2

Former section 4656 provided that "[a]ggregate disability payments for a single injury causing temporary disability shall not extend for more than 240 compensable weeks within a period of five years from the date of the injury."

Section 4656 was amended in 1978. (Sen. Bill No. 1851 (1977-1978 Reg.Sess.) Stats.1978, ch. 937, § 1, p. 2913.) The 1978 amendment removed the 240-week limitation on aggregate temporary total disability within a year postinjury period for injuries occurring on or after January 1, 1979. The statute now provides that "[a]ggregate disability payments for a single injury occurring prior to January 1, 1979, causing temporary disability shall not extend for more than 240 compensable weeks within a period of five years from the date of injury. [p] Aggregate disability payments for a single injury occurring on or after January 1, 1979, causing temporary partial disability shall not extend for more than 240 compensable weeks within a period of five years from the date of the injury." (§ 4656, italics added.)

Relying on the current version of section 4656, Nickelsberg argues that the workers' compensation judge had jurisdiction to award further temporary total disability indemnity more than five years after the original injury. Nickelsberg assumes that an initial award of "future medical treatment" must reasonably be interpreted to include, as a "secondary consequence," an award of future temporary total disability indemnity resulting from such treatment and that section 4656, as amended, removes all limits on awards for temporary total disability. Based on that assumption, Nickelsberg argues that the workers' compensation judge simply enforced his original award under section 5803. 3 Implicit in Nickelsberg's argument is the understanding that the provisions in section 5804 for the amendment of an award 4 and in 5410 for an award of "new and further disability" 5 are inapplicable.

A. The Workers' Compensation Judge Was Not Merely Enforcing Nickelsberg's Original Award Pursuant to Section 5803

As indicated, Nickelsberg argues that an award of future medical treatment implicitly includes, as a secondary consequence, an award of future temporary total disability indemnity. We disagree. Medical treatment and temporary total disability are two different classes of benefits. (Burton v. Workers' Comp. Appeals Bd. (1980) 112 Cal.App.3d 85, 89, 169 Cal.Rptr. 72.) No reported opinion supports the conclusion that temporary total disability is merely a secondary consequence or benefit of a medical award.

Indeed, "[m]edical treatment and disability indemnity are separate and distinct elements of compensation which fulfill different, though complementary, legislative goals. Employer liability for medical and surgical services is provided in major part in order to facilitate the worker's speedy recovery and to maximize his [or her] productive employment. [Citation.] Temporary disability indemnity is intended primarily to substitute for the worker's lost wages, in order to maintain a steady stream of income. [Citation.] Permanent disability indemnity has a dual function: to compensate both for actual incapacity to work and for physical impairment of the worker's body, which may or may not be incapacitating. [Citation.]" (J.T. Thorp, Inc. v. Workers' Comp. Appeals Bd. (1984) 153 Cal.App.3d 327, 333, 200 Cal.Rptr. 219.) As the WCAB noted in the present case, "an award of further medical treatment does not implicitly carry with it a commensurate award of temporary total disability indemnity." Temporary total disability, which is paid as a result of missing work because of an injury, is a benefit separate and distinct from medical treatment.

Hence, Nickelsberg errs in assuming that temporary total disability indemnity is merely a secondary consequence of an award of further medical treatment. Based on this mistaken assumption, Nickelsberg further argues that when future medical treatment is included in an original award, section 4656, as amended, allows an applicant to recover temporary total disability benefits whenever, and for as long as, they are required. He is entitled to these benefits, he contends, as a mere enforcement of his original award under section 5803. We disagree.

The plain language of section 4656 does not support Nickelsberg's interpretation. "The fundamental purpose of statutory construction is to ascertain the intent of the lawmakers so as to effectuate the purpose of the law. [Citation.] In order to determine this intent, we begin by examining the language of the statute. [Citation.]" (People v. Pieters (1991) 52 Cal.3d 894, 898, 276 Cal.Rptr. 918, 802 P.2d 420.) The 1978 amendment of section 4656 removed the 240-week limitation on aggregate temporary total disability indemnity within a five year postinjury period. The removal of this limitation, however, does not imply that temporary total disability can now be awarded at any time and for any period as a result of an original award of future medical treatment. Such a broad interpretation of the amendment would abrogate the time and jurisdictional limitations of sections 5410 and 5804. (See, post, pp. 92-93 of 285 Cal.Rptr., pp. 1334-1335 of 814 P.2d.)

Nickelsberg bases his interpretation of the amendment to section 4656 on the preenactment comments of various participants in the legislative process. For example, the Department of Industrial Relations in its enrolled bill report stated that "[p]resent law provides that payment of temporary disability indemnity shall not be paid for more than 240 weeks within a period of 5 years from the date of injury. In most instances, temporary disability is concluded long before this point is reached. There are however cases which create a hardship situation where an industrial injury results in the need for surgery more than 5 years after the date of injury. Due to the arbitrary time limit, the employee is then only entitled to receive medical benefits and is precluded from receiving temporary disability indemnity resulting from the hospitalization and surgery. Although occurring rarely, these situations create an obvious hardship that is difficult to defend." (Agr. & Services Agency, Sen. Industrial Relations Com. Enrolled Bill Rep. and...

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